When I began this blog a few months ago, I promised myself that I wouldn’t use it to critique other cause marketing campaigns. After all, I’m about to embark on a campaign of my own and until I can prove that mine works, what right do I have to critique anyone else’s?
But I have been studying other people’s campaigns, incredibly closely, to learn the best that’s out there and what not to do. And it’s in that light that I want to spend a little time on the recently vilified (and seemingly now defunct) Skechers cause-related brand, Bobs Shoes.
By now, plenty of folks have written about Bobs and its obvious rip-off of Toms Shoes. The feedback was overwhelmingly negative, with criticism levied against Skechers for copy-catting Toms Shoes, coming across as an insincere campaign, or just flat out failing to follow some of the now-developing rules around cause marketing. You can read several of these assessments yourself here, here, and here, as well as an article in the LA Times making the same basic argument. I won’t spend time reprinting what they’ve already written.
I first came across Bobs Shoes while reading Lalia Helmer’s blog. In her respectful post on this topic, Lalia took the time to really analyze what Skechers had done wrong and ultimately provided readers (like me) with compelling lessons learned. I read it on my iPhone on the metro, and, feeling a little more enlightened, retweeted it automatically:
Then, having absorbed those lessons I did what every good citizen of the tweetverse would do – I forgot all about it in favor of the next tweet and the next interaction.
A few days later (today), it resurfaced. Scrolling through the iPhone, again on the metro, I found the post calling Skechers a #fail and I decided I had to investigate further for myself. In doing so, I discovered a few things:
- Almost everyone writing cares a whole lot about marketing. They know cause marketing and they know good cause marketing from bad cause marketing. And they have been studying Toms Shoes for several years now. My guess is that Skechers reaches more people than have heard of Toms, people who would be impressed with the idea of BOGO and proud to support Skechers for doing it.
- Reading the comments sections, not everyone agrees Skechers is doing such a bad thing. People note that Skechers is giving two pairs to charity for every pair they sell, that the Toms Shoes founder actually wants his model to be copied, and that they’re charging a few dollars less than Toms. What’s so bad about that?
- And, as I also applaud Lalia and the Digital Mom Blog for doing, they note that Soles4Souls, the nonprofit beneficiary of the campaign, donates millions of shoes to children in need and does great things (well, almost everyone. One of my favorite bloggers, Saundra Schimmelpfennig, noted in her comments on Lalia’s post that giving free clothes to developing countries ruins their local economies, and that’s a damn good point. She also wrote a blog post about it today on her blog).
And so I came to a different conclusion, and the whole reason I put off developing my business tonight to write this post. Bobs Shoes already seems like a thing of the past. There is no mention of it on Skechers website and links from a week ago now lead nowhere. The campaign may still be ongoing in stores, but not online. I can only imagine that Skechers pulled it after all the criticism. And remember, it’s good criticism and for cause marketing to work in the long run companies have to do more than just copy other campaigns and who knows – maybe it’ll be back in a few weeks firing on all cylinders. But in this case, a well-liked nonprofit (Soles) lost what probably would have been a solid revenue stream all because they decided to go with a business model that already proved to work.
I hope as we develop into a peer-reviewing community that we will continue to uphold the goal of promoting the causes we support. We lampoon campaigns, declare them DOA before consumers have had a chance to engage, and hold them to a standard whose ink is still wet. Rightly, we worry about the effect of bad campaigns on the cause marketing field, we worry about cause-fatigue and cause-washing, and we worry about violating consumers’ trust. Companies must be more transparent and do away with the BS language they use to sound more benevolent than they are. But we must remember that on the receiving end of each critique is a cause. Lalia’s post is a good example of how to have the right balance. Otherwise, causes may be the unwitting victims as cause marketing continues to evolve.
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